4698/Broken Mirrors: A Tangled Web

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Broken Mirrors: A Tangled Web
Date of Scene: 12 January 2021
Location: The Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
Synopsis: Mother lies to Natasha. Mother lies to Yelena. Mother lies to everyone. Also there's ballet.
Cast of Characters: Nadia Pym-van Dyne, Natasha Romanoff, Yelena Belova

Nadia Pym-van Dyne has posed:
"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." - Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field, Sir Walter Scott

It has been a chaotic week for Natasha to say the least. First a sleepless night lead her to a remote gas station where she came face to face with a message from 'Mother'. In the following days a BOLO alert from SHIELD made at least one of her personas a very sought after lady, but that's to be expected when they think you raided one of their secret facilities and sliced a quinjet in half with a high powered energy weapon while agents were still aboard. Then came the news of Dopplegangers from another world, was this related? Did the Red Room have a hand in the whole thing? It is impossible to say in their world where everything is lies. So it is that Natasha finds herself back in Moscow following her only lead, the first strand of this web, the Bolshoi Theatre on the night of the Moscow Grand Ballet.

On this night Yelena Belova also steps into the tangled web of Mother's plans. The new Black Widow also finds herself at the Bolshoi ostensibly to pick up an asset and bring them to another facility run by Department X, but when the Red Room is involved things are rarely as they seem.

Natasha Romanoff has posed:
    It's all very nostalgic, in an odd way. This theater. The music. The cold. Only knowing just enough to do what other people want her to do.
    Wearing a heavy overcoat over a black wool sweater and fingerless gloves - a hat placed atop her head - Natasha Romanoff looks up at the theater from a ways outside, briefly lost in some sort of grim reverie, although her eyes habitually scan everyone and everything around her.

Yelena Belova has posed:
    Yelena is dressed for the occasion, a rather fetching sequin dress with some cleavage thanks to a sinking V neck, and a fine slit along the dress. It's form fitting, and draws attention away from Yelena's face in the manner it highlights her assets. To most it might seem a bit daring for a Moscow Grand Ballet performance. The likes of Natasha would immediately recognize the utility of distraction, coupled with mobility for fighting allowed by the slit in the dress.

    Yelena is sitting in her box, eyes on the stage, as if she wasn't even expecting any company. But the purse she carries with her isn't there for touching up makeups. She knows a meeting with any given asset can go any which way, and after her harrowing 'graduation' trial, she's learned to expect the unexpected. When Natasha will make it to her box, she may take note that the 'bracelets' adorning Yelena's wrists are very reminiscent of Black Widow Gauntlet. Likely a more compact, newer design, and likely similar in function to what she's familiar with.

    Yelena does peek at her phone, frowning, she was supposed to meet with Asset Dva, but was given no details on the target. Now she picked up one detail, her assigned rendezvous isn't very punctual...unless it's due to caution?

Nadia Pym-van Dyne has posed:
As Natasha approaches the Bolshoi, she hears a voice to her right. The lady walking next to her looks an awful lot like one of the Black Widow operatives she killed in the Siberian facility a few months ago. How did she miss approach?! "Your name is Natalya Kudrina, your ticket is waiting at the ticket office. The show will start soon, don't be late."

And just like that, like the image of 'Mother' outside her car a week earlier, the woman is suddenly gone without a trace.

Natasha Romanoff has posed:
    Natasha's jaw tightens, her breath stopping short in alarm as she once again finds herself approached without warning; something her highly trained senses have not been used to for a good long while. Natasha stares coldly into the eyes of a woman she'd killed - an experience usually reserved for when she's asleep - and says nothing.
    The message was clear. The message intended by the choice of deliverer, moreso: Natalia Romanova has a lot to answer for.
    Natasha approaches the ticket office and, uncharacteristically, removes her hat, affecting a genuine-seeming pleasant smile and demeanor as she asks for her ticket. Fiery red hair and a warm attitude. She's making herself noticeable. Memorable.
    When Natasha makes her way to her seat, she's already considering snapping Yelena's neck and being done with it. Doubly so when she notices the bracelets. But that wasn't the agreement. A bit callously for the occasion, Natasha tosses her coat over the back of her own chair and sits down, propping her elbows on the railing and propping her chin up on one hand with a dreamy look on her face. <Ooohhh, wow...> She remarks with convincing wonder in her native language. <I've not been here in ages.>

Yelena Belova has posed:
Yelena finds it odd that a supposed asset she was supposed to meet wouldn't make it ahead of the show, it was odd, most anyone she's worked with yet has been extremely punctual. It was, after all, ingrained in Red Room personnel quite harshly. So the fact she's still alone in her box when final call for people to make it to their seats is heard, makes her a bit more alert than she otherwise might be. She shifts her purse against her lap, rearranging the slit of her dress just in case this would turn out to be just another test, and she'll need to get into a fight sooner than expected. Not that she was told to expect a fight, this was meant to be the simplest assignment, meet with Target Dva, bring asset to Department X. Secret access to Metro-2 off the Bolshoi should make that part super easy. So what was the catch? There usually was one. Yelena is now starting to suspect this is a test, and while told to meet a friendly, she'll wind up with an attempt on her life. She can still hear Mother's chastising remark, 'a Black Widow expects every possibility; Romanova would have done better'.

Funny that this would be the memory playing in her head, because when someone finally joins her in her box, it's the last person she ever expected to see. After all, one does not often meet with the dead. While Natasha may not remember Yelena as a promising 9 year old she once marked for her potential, in a reward session the class earned, lead by their hero the famous Romanova. But Yelena will never forget Romanova, she grew up idolizing the woman, studying her performance in drills and ops, and spent most of her life being ill compared to her, always pressed to do better and try harder. It was surreal, and just as she was promised several times over, one can never anticipate all possibilities in the field.
    Usually Yelena has performed with top marks, kept complete control of herself, and has been in all manner of ways...exceptional. That's why she's earned her placement as Romanova's successor. The next Black Widow. But even she could not keep a silent "bozhe moi..." form escaping her lips, "...Natalia...?" It's clear Yelena is at a bit of a loss, after all, she's looking at a Ghost, a woman she mourned four years ago when the Red Room announced their greatest loss to stress how important it was for the younger cadets to really push their hardest.

The language of course is Russian, when she speaks a bit more audibly, "Swan Lake is always a huge draw, I was unaware it was so good as to pull the dead out of their graves...how did you manage that feat?"

Of course, they were there for a reason, and regardless of what Natasha might say, Yelena leans against the railing, mimicing Natasha's pose while getting closer to her to whisper, "first intermission, we go for refreshment, then we move...you remember Bolshoi access point to M2, yes?"

Natasha Romanoff has posed:
    Natasha doesn't look at Yelena when she speaks. If she recognizes the blonde haired heir to her title, she makes no show of it. She appears lost in the performance on stage, wistful and nostalgic. She is either behaving very unbecoming for a spy, or she's showing just how easily she can become whoever she wants to be.
    "Hmmm..." She hums softly in response to Yelena's first question, and shrugs her shoulders, "A terrible wizard turned me into a swan when I wouldn't marry him." She says, wistful and evasive. "Took ages to turn back. Got used to warmer climates when I did."
    Natasha's smile widens slightly when Yelena talks business, and gives a brief dismissive wave of her hand "Mmm, sure, sure, M2, that works-" she says before immediately switching gears and continueing in a more excited tone as if she were continuing the same sentence "-oh, there's the Prince! They found a handsome one." She sighs softly, "Our poor Prince. Looking for love and depth, but willing to settle for excitement. Comfortable. Jubilant." Natasha's smile falls a little. "Doomed."
    Natasha finally inclines her head just enough to look at Yelena, and asks softly, "Have you ever danced here?"

Yelena Belova has posed:
    Yelena notes how Natasha doesn't even bother looking her way at first, and while she shows nothing outwardly, it does annoy her to no end. Persumed dead for four years, she comes back as if nothing happened, Yelena the current Black Widow isn't even told a thing about it, and then Natalia doesn't even look her way. It's insulting to her on a personal level, even if Natalia is likely doing what she is supposed to do, seeling the act of watching a grandiose ballet production. Watching Natasha looking like she hasn't a care in the world aside for the show makes Yelena already hear Mother's remarks in her mind 'you encompass a role, embody a role, and then it becomes truth'. Natalia always does better. She wonders if Romanova's return means she'll be demoted...was her whole death fabricated by the Red Room? She can't put it past them.
    Given the ballet performance taking place on stage, Yelena can't help but smirk at Natasha's intuitive story, "...is that so? I make sure never to be assigned to Volga valley ops, I'd rather avoid Baba Yaga." Her smile turns crooked when she teases, "you don't find it cold, now, do you? Home is always where heart is warmest."
    With attention brought to the Prince, Yelena smiles conspiratorily, "ah...you've a good eye to spot Yagudin's quality," she names the current principal male dancer, "if Red Room didn't prefer Bolshoi to keep operating uninterrupted, maybe I take him for myself..." she muses, perhaps showing her youth in even entertaining such notion. Then again, maybe it's just play.

    "I am of your namesake now, Natalia, of course I danced here...both for business and pleasure. I dance en pointe." Yelena feels the need to stress she's a good ballerina, if only not to feel so much the lesser in Natalia's presence. It's tough to keep your confidence when being within touching distance of your life's greatest hero. "Will you at least tell me if you faked your death to fool the Americans? Was there a super secret Op nobody told me about? It hurt losing you...almost as much..." but she stops herself. If Natasha is sharp enough she'll note Yelena clenching her fists, she made a mistake, and she realized it moment before making it worse. "It's almost time, are you ready?" She pauses a moment, then finally adds, "it's good to have you back, Chernaya Vdova." Yes, Yelena is now the Black Widow, but she'll never not recognize Natalia, and for all she knows, after this escapade, Natalia may well be back in the fold.

Natasha Romanoff has posed:
    Natasha listens quietly, though one could be forgiven for thinking she's paying no attention at all, in the way she seemingly delights in the royal festivities on stage. Truthfully the hierarchy of the Red Room is the furthest thing from her mind at the moment as she mentally picks apart Yelena's every word for anything. Everything.
    "Oh-ho-ho. If only~" She remarks playfully regarding Yagudin, smirking a bit. "You so rarely get to pick." She adds, a bit softer than before. She's still listening though. Dare she thinks she detects some kind of admiration in Yelena's voice? A subtle sense that the blonde Widow wants something from her. It could just as easily be a hook Yelena's throwing out on purpose. That's the kind of fun mental loop you can run around forever when you're spies of this calibur.
    Still, Natasha may benefit from pulling on that thread a bit.
    Natasha's pleasant expression doesn't fade when Yelena speaks of herself, but she goes a bit still, her blue eyes boring into Yelena for a moment. "Rule number one, White Swan:" she says kindly, "You never need to know."
    Natasha holds Yelena's gaze for a long moment after that, before suddenly relaxing back into her chair. "... But I'm feeling relaxed, these days, so... who knows." She smiles merrily, only faltering slightly when Yelena speaks her title in their language, before she grabs her coat. "Oh look, our hero has his crossbow. That's about our cue, I supppose."

Yelena Belova has posed:
    "I never get to pick..." Yelena's words are pale and quiet, not meant to be audible, normally she wouldn't be so rattled. But of all people, Natalia would be the one to shake her so. Her entire existence for the most part is centered around that woman, a pendulum shifting from worship to loathing as she's constantly hammered with insulting comparisons. Regardless of whether true or not. But, she does have the Black Widow name now, so clearly she's earned it, despite their derisive words...they all agreed she was good enough. Or did they...? What was this current little excrusion even about...? Yelena had good reason to be unnerved.

    "White Swan..." Yelena repeats, "so you still think me too naieve, do you?" She does nods, however, at the wise words. Those who ask too much, could very well end up dead, or worse. Yelena is already rising to her feet as Natasha notes the aforementioned cue, "indeed, shall we? The chariot awaits..." and with that Yelena gestures for Natalia to walk out of the box first. She has all the respect in the world for Romanova, but she was sent to assure her rendezvous reaches Department-X, there's no way she's heading out first and allowing Natasha to do as she pleases. Hell, Nat could be in on this test. Maybe the Red Room played a mind game too many with Yelena, that she still somehow thinks this is all about testing her worth.

Nadia Pym-van Dyne has posed:
For experienced operatives it is not terribly difficult to find the restricted access doors and concealed passages that lead to the Bolshoi entrance of M2. Any number of widows have used it over the years while moonlighting on this stage. While the outward appearance of the tunnels hasn't changed since the time of Stalin, what's under the hood certainly has. A private car is waiting for Yelena and Natasha when they arrive. The doors open seemingly of their own volition. No sooner have they stepped inside, the doors woosh shut and the car takes off on its preprogrammed route with no need for any input.

The M2 car deposits them at another covert station, in a remote part of the city. At first it is hard to imagine why they are here, far from any government buildings, though that is perhaps exactly why they are here. Yelena's phone vibrates with an encrypted message, just an address of a local clinic not far from their current position.

Natasha Romanoff has posed:
Natasha meets Yelena's moment of suspicion and resentment with a fixed friendly smile and shrugs, "Or I could just mean you're lovely. One of those."
    It's not really what you'd expect from a Black Widow's behavior, so either she's really committed to a bit, or she has entirely ceased to give any semblence of a fuck while in America.
    Which, in fairness, that country does do to people.
    At any rate, she doesn't cause a fuss as she makes her way to M2, though she is outwardly easygoing and nostalgic. Inside she's cold, and only getting colder as she comes ever closer to home. Staring out the window, Natasha softly asks, "... Have they asked you to teach them, yet? The little ones. They do that now and then. ... I've danced with more than one swan. Though I doubt I was ever the Prince they were hoping for."

Yelena Belova has posed:
Yelena laughs as Natasha offers a positive spin on 'white swan', and quips, "in a world where all strive to graduate to Black Widow or die, white is pale little color," the words of reprimand not choosen by mistake. They are seared in Yelena's mind, and many around the Red Room know better than to even combine 'Pale' and 'Little' in Yelena's vicinity because more often than not, they never make it to a third word. As the new Black Widow, such psychotic violent combustions are swept under the rug. After all, the real important personnel know better, and have the mean to stop it.

    Yelena of course, at least from what she's shown thus far, hasn't an inkling about what happened to Natasha beyond that fateful day in 2016, when her entire class mourned the horrific news that SHIELD operative Hawkeye terminated their hero. Given several guesses, not one of them would possibly be anywhere near Natasha having defected. If she is alive, it must have been a ruse, a web spun by the Red Room...Natalia was the greatest after all, she could never be a traitor. So the possibility America might have affected Natalia in anyway doesn't register on Yelena's radar.

    That question from Natasha wins her a rare actual reflection of stunned pain about Yelena's visage. It's quick, however, like a twitch, there a moment and gone just as soon as it's shown a hint of existence. "....you taught me in that manner, when I was a little one..." the words are barely audibly at all. The fact Natalia doesn't even remember that day hurts more than a bullet. To Yelena, that day was the greatest of her young life, she got to learn from the best. No doubt, to Romanova that day was Tuesday.

    "Nyet..." Yelena scoffs, as she glances at her phone, "they do not want me near the little ones...let's go," she starts to march energetically as the door swipes open, walking with purpose, like she knows precisely where they are going, but she keeps in a line with Natalia, not letting her lag behind. "I'm not sure who is meeting us next, but with you being a guest of honor, I can't imagine any but the top brass. We mustn't be tardy. Mother will be cross."

Nadia Pym-van Dyne has posed:
The clinic seems like any other small clinic and has perhaps fallen on hard times. The waiting room inside of the doors is not the cleanest. One of the neon tubes in the lighting is flickering like it needs to be replaced. Behind the counter is an older Russian woman in a medical receptionist's outfit with a severe expression like she doesn't get paid enough for any of this. At least that's what it all appears to be, beneath the surface it could be literally anything, particularly given the fact two Black Widows have been directed there.

Natasha Romanoff has posed:
    Natasha's expression falters when Yelena tells Natasha she was one of hers. She looks at Yelena with something resembling interest for the first time before her mask comes back on with a little smile. "We've danced before, then." She says, the statement both literal and figurative. She looks away, then, and ominously adds, "... Perhaps we will dance again."
    Regarding whether Yelena's been asked to teach, Natasha stares out the window. "... You should look forward to it. It's a... nostalgic experience. Makes you think about things. Remember things..." As the car slows to a stop, Natasha regards Yelena with blank eyes and very softly, emotionlessly, notes, "... They never do tell you what happened to the others." All the girls in Natasha's class who vanished one by one. In Yelena's too, no doubt.
    Natasha steps out of the car and follows Yelena without another word.

Yelena Belova has posed:
    "We danced well enough that Starkovsky became my personal tutor..." Yelena takes a moment to brag herself, just to make it clear she didn't inherit Natalia's role on a luck of the draw, she worked her ass off to be the best in class. Yelena, naturally assumes Natasha means she might show her more now that she's so far advanced, and takes no ill will in the statement. After all, they are both Black Widows, both in the Red Room, what reason would they ever have to be on opposing sides. It's fun how life has a way of shattering your expectations, and flipping on its head what you think you know. "It will be a pleasure."
    "Of course I will cherish the chance..." Yelena notes, she will see a sign of trust in being allowed to train the little ones. She hopes, or even yearns, to perhaps even being given an ounce of the awe-struck adoration that Natalia got when she taught her class. Yelena levels her gaze with Natasha, for once a painful truth they both lived and experienced, no doubt in their own ways, but along similar trains of thought. "Yes. They never do. But it doesn't matter does it...? Failure does not belong in the Red Room..." and yet, when one first learns the pain of making friends and why classmates should be kept at a distance...that never leaves you.
    When they come before the stern faced receptionist, Yelena offers a formal salute, "we've made it on time as specified." She doesn't add anymore, expecting here they will hear of the next step.

Nadia Pym-van Dyne has posed:
"You are expected." The stern faced older woman informs Yelena bluntly, before turning severe expression upon Natasha, "Welcome home Natalya."

Even as the receptionist says this to Natasha there is a sound of something hissing through the air from a blind angle, some hidden trajectory in the ceiling, and a dart hits Natasha's neck. The world swims for a moment before everything goes black.

The receptionist then turns her attention back to Yelena again, "Thank you for delivering her. Your job is finished. We will handle her from here." She pushes a button and two large burly orderlies emerge from the back to retrieve the unconcious Natasha. It is to say the least a hell of a way to greet the return of the legendary Black Widow Natalia Romanova.

Natasha Romanoff has posed:
    Natasha fixes the receptionist with a cold glare when she's 'welcomed', the sole hint of defiance she can get in before a dart penetrates her neck, prompting little more than a sharp exhalation of pain and surprise as she immediately grabs and removes the dart from her neck.
    She regards it in her hand as her vision immediately begins swimming, her gloved hand clenching around it with frustration... and then releasing it as Natasha falls limply.

Yelena Belova has posed:
    Not being involved in any updates of what the Red Room knows about Natalia since the reports of her death, which obviously have been greatly exaggerated, Yelena thought this was a homecoming celebration. She had no reason to suspect Natalia did anything without explicit command, but now she's given a first glimpse that it just may be...possibly, that the golden perfection that is Romanova faltered? Did she actually misstep and...betray the Red Room? Could her hero has been a false one? Does that mean she'll finally get respect? Is this, even yet, a test?

    Yelena is frozen, but similarly so, her expression is cold as steel and just as revealing of her inner turmoil. The only way this action would be taken, is if it was warranted. Who was she to go out of line and take the whole place down. She got the address specifically from Mother, so it couldn't have possibly been anything but precisely what was supposed to happen.

    The only hint that this turn of event jarred Yelena, is the miniscule delay before she salutes the receptionist. "I am pleased to complete my assignment." She casts one last glance at the collapsed Romanova, and proceeds to turn on a heel and march on out. Questions she doesn't dare ask here, but she will put in a request to speak to Mother, or anyone really, if allowed, to learn more of the meaning of this. Hopefully the request itself won't get her in trouble. Surely they'll understand her concern, they were the one who drilled comparison to Romanova deep inside her for her entire life.